Anthrax deadly like atomic bomb

One kilogram of anthrax produces a Hiroshima effect – report on the simulation of an attack

The mathematician Lawrence M.Wein from Stanford University and two scientists from the Operations Research Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on the simulation of an attack with 1 kg of anthrax.

The initial conditions are suboptimal: point-shaped from a fictitious location at a height of 100 meters at average wind speed without turbulence. Nevertheless, 1.5 million people are infected, based on a densely populated area of more than 30 km and the subsequent rural settlement of up to 200 km. Spread by airplane or helicopter, or blown off the roof of a skyscraper, the effects were far more catastrophic, because the model simplistically assumes the one-sided line-shaped spread here as well.

Anthrax as deadly as atomic bomb

The probability of infection for 1 kg of anthrax in the model test extends up to 200 km from the site of spore release. (Credit Science)

The scientists’ simulation considers a total of 36 parameters with the aim of playing out practical consequences for preparedness. With the biosensors currently installed in the major cities, one of which monitors 10 square kilometers at a time, it takes an average of 2 days from the distribution center for the first full-blown disease to be diagnosed by a doctor. However, the average incubation period is 11 days. In a large city, the attack leads to a massive burden on medical care, which, as the figures show, is not sufficiently ensured either by the hospitals or by the total number of doctors.

In the model calculations, the affected persons are differentiated according to age and intensity of the infection. In reality, however, there is no "Geigerzahler", with which the doctor can estimate the extent of the infection from the outset. Consequently, the doctors are overwhelmed by a flood of sick people, which they do not see whether it is the survivable early beginning of the illness, or a late stage, whose therapy should be stopped in order to give the less affected a chance of survival.

Logistics instead of chaos

Can the silent anthrax bomb be countered? "Not if you start only after the attack has occurred," according to L.M.Wein, and on:

Two components are critical, namely (a) the earliest possible treatment of those who have not received a lethal dose of spores, and (b) sufficient treatment capacity.

This results in various requirements for preventive care. On the one hand, it is essential to vaccinate doctors and nursing staff now and to prepare them for the procedure. Furthermore, a system must be installed to ensure the distribution of antibiotics in the event of an emergency. The U.S. Government now has just enough doses of ciprofloxacin stored in the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile to treat 12 million people for 60 days.

However, this requires the logistics to be in place. Therefore, it is being considered to distribute the initial stockpile to the population as a precautionary measure. "Despite all the misgivings about the distribution of antibiotics and the associated risks, at least the initial panic could be avoided in this way. Because of the expected increase in lung diseases, the hospitals need additional medical equipment and enough ventilators with special filter systems to clean the air in the hospital itself," explains E.H.Kaplan from MIT. The latest developments in the field of biodefense are therefore more than necessary.

No bird-straw policy

Nationwide preparedness is not enough and, if you can count, all good intentions fail because of the costs. Therefore, the population must be prepared for emergencies.

We can no longer bury our heads in the sand. Otherwise, even a small attack will lead to panic, or worse, to an uncoordinated flight from the affected area, the breakdown of communications and supplies, and ultimately to the complete disintegration of the social fabric,

Warns L.M.Wine. The real background is the attack of spring 2001 on the US postal system with six letters with an estimated 1 g of anthrax spores. At the time, there were only headlines because hardly anyone knew anything more specific about the risks than the experts.

Today, transportation planners admit, chaos would ensue if New Yorkers wanted to leave their city in one fell swoop. The concern of those responsible for homeland security is based not least on the still unclear question: who came into possession of the anthrax spores, and from what source, although this material, which was produced in the USA, should have been destroyed long ago? In a country where all office buildings and shopping malls are usually equipped with air-conditioning, it is a miracle that the ancient letter was used instead of the numerous and much more effective ports of entry.

The Iraq war nourishes the fears of the USA of a revenge campaign. Unlike the atomic bomb, it does not need a missile or special preparations, which could be scouted by satellites. A few grams of anthrax can be carried undetected in a hand pack or sewn into the hem of a coat. The importation of kilograms is just as easy as the daily evidence of illicit drugs. In this way, the material could have arrived in the USA long ago. The costs in case of an attack are as incalculable as those of the Iraq war. The decontamination of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington took several months and cost 23 million US dollars. 100 million US dollars and more than a year were needed to restore the post office buildings in Brentwood, DC and Hamilton Township, NJ.

Who knows we are protected in Europe?

Biological weapons are natural in origin and as old as well poisoning. That is why anthrax is considered a "poor man’s weapon" will gain in importance. The attack in the USA with "only" The fact that there are five deaths and horrendous costs for the national economy is an invitation to exploit this effect. Whether terrorist, psychopath, or politician: a little anthrax administered in small, well-dosed doses ruins the economic power of a country and more than that, it creates impotent, crippling anxiety.

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